A year after unthinkable horror, daffodils bloom in Oso where a massive landslide swept away a bucolic little community and 43 lives.
The flowers were planted by a neighbor in memory of friends lost when a rain-soaked hillside collapsed without warning, crashing across a river and destroying dozens of homes. Among the dead were several children and a woman driving by on a state highway that was engulfed by a wall of mud.
The personal stories of lost loved ones were heart-breaking. A young woman lost her mother and her infant daughter. Another woman lost her husband and three children. Three generations of one family, including 4- and 6-year-old boys, were killed. An engaged young couple planning their wedding died while visiting the future bride’s grandparents.
The region learned a lot from the tragedy.
We learned that people can be amazingly selfless; so many worked tirelessly searching for survivors, then for remains. They retrieved belongings and cleaned them, hoping someone would claim them. They fed and sheltered survivors and workers. The nearby communities were much deserving of the state Medal of Valor they were awarded in recognition of their response efforts.
We learned a lot about generosity. Millions of dollars in donations – more than $9.5 million – came in from all 50 states and abroad to help the community and victims’ families.
We learned that rules regarding emergency response delayed efforts to deploy state firefighting resources. Legislation now before lawmakers would clarify that those resources can be used for non-fire emergencies. Given the scope of potential disasters in this state – from lahars and tsunamis to earthquakes – that clarification allowing all hands to get quickly on deck makes sense.
We learned that logging on the slope hilltop might have contributed to the slide. The state reacted by imposing new logging rules in landslide-prone areas.
We learned that we don’t know enough about other possible landslide threats. Legislation is currently being considered to improve mapping of landslide-prone areas and give planners more information about risks. Lawmakers should support this proposal.
The Oso tragedy has left scars on the land, but also on the survivors, the families of the dead and the people who worked in the recovery efforts. May time bring them solace.